Understanding urban resilience with the Urban Systems Abstraction Hierarchy (USAH)

K. Mcclymont, M. Bedinger, L. Beevers, A. Visser-Quinn, G. H. Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
8 Downloads (Pure)


The paper discusses how the Urban System Abstraction Hierarchy (USAH) can be used as an informative hazard-agnostic tool to understand interdependencies between shocks which impact tangible parts of the city system, and longer-term stressors which impact intangible outcomes of the city system. To create resilient cities, we must grapple with such complex interdependencies. Effective solutions that foster resilience require acknowledging the interplay between sectors (e.g. healthcare systems and ecosystem services), between scales (e.g. local and regional), between timeframes (e.g. immediate shocks and longer-term stresses), and between what we can and cannot see in the physical world (e.g. tangible resources and abstract purposes). These critical ‘systems thinking’ areas can be explored by mapping urban interdependencies through their functionality, rather than their geospatial connectivity. The aim of this paper is to build and validate the USAH as a resilience tool to do just this. The analysis demonstrates how the USAH tool can make interactions explicit whilst keeping urban complexity tractable. By quantifying interdependencies, fresh perspectives on urban functionality are provided. It concludes that the USAH tool fills an important gap in the resilience literature by helping to operationalise the complexity within urban systems.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103729
JournalSustainable Cities and Society
Early online date29 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


  • Abstraction hierarchy
  • Cascading impacts
  • Complex adaptive systems
  • Interdependencies
  • Resilience
  • Urban systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Transportation


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